Canadians, or people living in other northerly countries, make the most of their short summers by getting outdoors and enjoying the sunshine every chance they get. I especially love to wander around the weekend farmer’s markets buying baskets full of the freshest vegetables and juiciest fruits to enjoy at home knowing I am helping to support local farmers and promoting Canadian summer produce.
Getting kids involved in eating fresh local produce can be more fun than a trip to the market if you plan an outing to a Pick-Your-Own Farm. Kids of all ages (that includes some of the parents out there!) will get a kick out of a visit to a nearby farm or orchard for a few hours of harvesting (while sneaking a few bites along the way), learning about how a farm works and being out in the country air. Picking strawberries, raspberries and blueberries can be a treat for young children, and the older ones will enjoy the challenge of climbing the trees/ladders in search of the best cherries, peaches, apples or pears.
Many of the farms here in Ontario offer more than just fruit and vegetable picking with activities such as hiking, farm and livestock tours, corn mazes plus country markets and cafés where you can sample fresh bread, fruit pies or pastries made on the premises. In October, the emphasis is on pumpkins and squash with haunted houses, hay rides and hot apple cider for the kids.
You can take your family or get a larger group of neighbors or friends involved and make a whole day out of it!
• Invite family, friends and neighbors and encourage them to bring their kids and their kids friends to make it a fun group activity. Ask people to RSVP to the event to get an approximate number of people who will be attending. Often the farmers ask that you call ahead to let them know you are coming and to check the status of the produce and the weather forecast for the day.
• Send maps and directions to attendees and organize carpools if necessary.
• Explain what activities are involved in the Pick-Your-Own Party and make sure people are aware that they should wear “farm clothes” and sturdy footwear and that their children will undoubtedly get dirty/get stained with fruit juice.
• Prepare a basket of items to help make people more comfortable outdoors including insect repellant, sunscreen, bottled water, wetnaps to clean sticky hands, and perhaps blankets if going in the fall.
For immediate gratification after all the picking and hard work, plan to have a picnic lunch at the farm and ahead of time, ask each family/group to contribute one or two dishes to share with everyone. As the organizer, you could provide an assortment of beverages and bring tablecloths/blankets, plates, cutlery and any condiments necessary to complete the feast. Of course dessert would be fresh fruit straight off the farm!
The recipe below makes a quick but delicious berry pie that can be baked right after you get home from the Pick-Your-Own Party:
Fresh Strawberry Pie from Nokara Farms
1 baked pie shell
1 liter washed, halved and hulled strawberries
2/3 cup white sugar
3 tablespoons corn starch
whipping cream to serve
Take 1/2 liter of strawberries and mash thoroughly. In a small saucepan, bring the mash to a boil for 1 minute, then add 2/3 cup of white sugar mixed with 3 tablespoons of corn starch. Cook until thick. Spread a thin layer of this jam on the bottom of the crust.
Place hulled and washed berries (hulled side down) in a spiral arrangement on top of the jam to fill the crust. Cover berries with the rest of the warm jam. Cool the pie to let the jam set. Serve with whipped cream, if desired.
Harvest Ontario is a great reference for farms and orchards in the Niagara Region.
D. Smith & Son Two Century Farm is one of my favorite "pick-your-own" farms.